2012 March: Walls Speak

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what hangs on an operator’s walls says a lot. Whether it is comprised of pictures, artwork, awards, sports memorabilia or a little bit of everything, a restaurant’s wall décor speaks volumes to customers.

An elegant piece of art reveals a restaurant’s style; framed sports memorabilia represents loyalty; awards speak of high standards and pride; pictures of neighborhood sports teams create a sense of community. Paying attention to what goes up on the walls gives

operators an opportunity to express more than they could ever say.

“I wanted a rough mixture of things — things specific to Cincinnati,” says Mac Ryan, owner and general manager of Mac’s Pizza Pub, in Cincinnati, Ohio. “My restaurant, my product, is an extension of me. I was raised in Cincinnati, and I’m proud of that.”

Ryan says his wall décor is divided into thirds: one-third includes things that make people laugh; one-third showcases Cincinnati’s architecture and one-third focuses on Cincinnati-centered sports teams like the Bengals, Reds and the University of Cincinnati. Among the mix are also awards that Ryan has won.

In addition to pictures, Ryan’s walls boast three professional murals and a ton of artwork. He works with art students from the University of Cincinnati, including Erika Hutchins, who created an exterior mural on the patio that incorporates the logos of more than 70 beers and liquors that Mac’s Pizza Pub offers.

“Customers love to figure out the beer logos. The Sierra Nevada logo is tricky to find, and I offer a free beer to find the logo, and people love that,” Ryan says.

In the dining room, Ryan opted for a mural, also by Hutchins, that celebrates his food and his customers.

“It’s a picture of a big pizza out of the oven, the backside of one of my bartenders and the crowd. I wanted the crowd to be representative of our clientele. We have an urban clientele, and we’re a half block away from the campus of the University of Cincinnati. We have an eclectic and diverse group of people, and I wanted the picture to reflect that and be a picture of people having fun,” Ryan says, adding that the mural has completely changed the feel of the dining room and customer response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s a picture of food and people having fun; it’s a warm, inviting picture,” Ryan says. He has been deliberate in his choices. “I knew that I wanted to cover the walls, and everything on the walls I intentionally put there and was framed by me. The murals we did were intended to set us apart by having definite one-of-a-kind artwork.”

It was during trips far from home that a wall décor tradition was born for Pagliacci Pizza in Seattle, Washington. The restaurant features movie posters on its walls.

“That trend started at our original location in the early ’80s,” says Shelley McNulty, who works in marketing for Pagliacci Pizza. “Our founder came across some Italian movie posters in a store in L.A. They were expensive, so she held off on buying any until her next trip to Italy. She found a shop that had them for a good price and it started a tradition. Every trip to Rome, she’d come back with new posters, before the days of online shopping. We continue to freshen up the posters with newish movies when we find them. Our original location on University Avenue has around 100 posters of varying sizes on the walls.”

In addition to the movie posters, McNulty says Pagliacci Pizza also showcases Italian murals on its walls.

Wall art and graphics were a major focus of a recent exhaustive redesign for Brixx Wood Fired Pizza in North Carolina, says Tim Miner, the company’s director of marketing.

“We installed unique booth graphics, are creating employee photo walls –– to be changed often –– and the installation of chalkboard bands around the store to allow customers to draw and write their own notes while at the tables,” Miner says.

These new elements are a way to connect with their customers.

“We encourage our guests to think of us as a neighborhood restaurant with beer, wine and specials customized to their tastes,” Miner says. “We’re proud of our new design and feel it helps
encourage customer interaction and familiarity. Since we founded our first Brixx in 1998, we’ve invited our customers to feel a sense of ownership in their neighborhood Brixx. The chalkboards and photo walls, showing current employees at work and recent events, are part of creating that atmosphere.”

With more than one store, it’s acceptable to break the mold and diversify –– not all have to be identical, says Ashley Oakes, public relations and social media strategist at Zion and Zion, which represents Barro’s Pizza in Arizona, where a three-fold theme of Chicago, sports and family populate the wall décor at their multiple locations.

“Not all of the stores have the same exact pictures or items but have kept with the overall theme,” Oakes says. “Items are added depending on a sports season and team sponsorship. Most of the restaurants have been renovated to align with the dark wood theme they also have.”

Oakes says the Chandler Barro’s location has a back room with a full-screen projector for customers to view sporting events, and the walls showcase a mural of famous Chicago athletes and stadiums. Banners of local sports teams sponsored by Barro’s are also displayed. Jerseys, helmets and articles relating to local professional sports teams and pictures of some of the first Chandler High School sports teams hang on the walls.

“Barro’s Pizza stems from family roots, so pictures of the original Barro’s family members who started the business are included into the décor of the restaurants,” Oakes says. “Grandma Angelina is the face of many of the photos which are also used in many of the advertisements Barro’s puts out.”

Whether you choose to decorate your walls with personal touches of awards, family photos and community ties or elegant pictures of nature or one-of-a-kind artwork, make your walls talk. It gives your customers something to talk about.

DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.